What is the best way to introduce Los Angeles to a visitor?
Statistics don’t work. References to 10 million people; 200+ languages; 4,752 square miles; 300+ live theaters; 40+ universities, etc., etc., etc. result in blurred eyes and a listener who doesn’t hear – rather like a pubescent teenager presented with a list of household chores.
In place of statistics I follow the old adage, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Instead of drilling visitors with numbers I take them to the place Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame identified as “an L.A. must-do.” We go for a walk in Runyon Canyon Park.
Entering the park from the north, off the 7300 block of Mulholland Drive, we follow the partially paved fire road that snakes down from the lower of the two entrance gates and ends at the North Vista Street entrance near the bottom of the canyon. You don’t have to travel the entire 1.1 miles to see an unforgettable picture of Los Angeles unfold.
Follow the fire road past a cliff hugging ranch house and its corrals and continue past a barely visible, gated private residence on your right. A short distance past that you will see a gate that separates canine “on” and “off leash” areas. As you pass through this gate, leave the fire road and keep to the wide dirt path on your left. Follow this path along the ridge of the hill until you arrive at Inspiration Point. You should reach it in less than 15 minutes from the time you left the park’s entrance.
Inspiration Point, with its two back-to-back benches, offers a panorama of the entire Los Angeles Basin with superb views that include the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown skyline, Capitol Records, the Wilshire corridor, Century City, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. This is a premier location for educating visitors about the vastness of Los Angeles, for identifying Los Angeles landmarks and for locating various places your visitors will be visiting.
In addition to its spectacular views Runyon Canyon offers social networking opportunities, Los Angeles style. Don’t avoid eye contact. Strangers will greet you. You will hear a diversity of languages. Snippets of conversation will tantalize. Free daily yoga classes will entice. Business cards that seek funding or other help for movie projects will be strategically placed, some on “no posting” bulletin boards.
There is a better chance of spotting movie stars in Runyon Canyon than on any studio or stars’ homes tour your visitors may take. It is where celebrities go to be seen even as they insist they don’t want to be seen.
If you have time and your guests are in marginally fair physical shape, you can trek to the bottom of Runyon Canyon, take the Fuller Avenue exit on the left (east) side of the park, walk a few blocks to Hollywood Boulevard, turn left and check out the historic Roosevelt Hotel and its coffee shop, 25 Degrees.
The first Academy Awards were held at the Roosevelt. Marilyn Monroe’s first screen test was here. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson used the stairway leading from the lobby to the mezzanine to teach Shirley Temple the famous staircase dance performed in The Little Colonel. Your visitors can also cross the street, check the foot and handprints at the Chinese Theater and then return to Runyon Canyon for the walk up.
Notes on Runyon Canyon
A number of different, worth exploring, trails begin at the north entrance.
The park has no bathrooms and no water.
It is dog-friendly. Large portions of the park are designated “off leash.”
The Wikipedia entry for Runyon Canyon has several significant errors about its history including the discussion of Greek George and the chronology of the relationship between George Huntington Hartford III and Errol Flynn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runyon_Canyon_Park
While the San Fernando Valley is not visible from Runyon Canyon, if you drive about 1.2 miles from the Mulholland entrance toward Laurel Canyon you will begin to pass multiple scenic stops that overlook Universal Studios, Burbank and the rest of the San Fernando Valley.
Kenneth Hahn State Park
If you have visitors who absolutely refuse to walk in the hills or if you want to acquaint them with Los Angeles immediately after they land at LAX, drive them to the top of Kenneth Hahn State Park (4100 S. La Cienega Boulevard). Only a short distance north of LAX the park offers a mirror image of the Runyon Canyon panorama albeit from a lower elevation and with considerably less walking. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=612
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
For those who anticipate being in California this coming December, consider the following: The dining room of Yosemite’s historic Ahwahnee Hotel is the site of the annual Yuletide Bracebridge Dinner – a seven course meal that generally requires a year in advance reservations. The dining room is transformed into a 17th Century British manor house where over the course of four hours fine food is served while more than 100 players take on the roles of the manor’s squire and supporting staff. The pageant’s script is substantially the same as originally written in the 1920s by the photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams. For many years he also performed and sang at the dinner. See http://www.yosemitepark.com/bracebridge-dinner.aspx
Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.